A lot of people claim to have grown up in Hollywood. And, even those who do, I sincerely doubt them, simply because of the meaning of the word “Hollywood”. Hollywood exists as an industry; the real estate part, scattered in the form of film lots from Burbank to Culver City. The area known as Hollywood is actually not a city; it is a neighborhood. According to Wikipedia: “As a neighborhood within the Los Angeles city limits, Hollywood does not have its own municipal government. There was an official, appointed by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who served as an honorary ‘Mayor of Hollywood’ for ceremonial purposes only.” Hollywood itself is merely a dream. The real showbiz town was Beverly Hills.
The upper middle class section of the wealthiest enclave in the United States at the time. I say “upper middle class” because the real rich kids lived above Santa Monica, on the same streets. I grew up in “Beverly Hills; below Wilshire”, which extended east to about Robertson Blvd. and west to the curvy end of Santa Monica Blvd. Below Wilshire, above Olympic. Our parents weren’t super rich, but they had the highest divorce rate in the nation, so that was something to be proud about. Later dubbed “the slums of Beverly Hills”, ours were beautiful tree-lined streets with charming names such as Charleville and Rodeo Drive.
I went to Beverly Vista Elementary School, which in the early to mid-60’s was decidedly white, with a big Jewish contingency. The only African American at our school was Barry Gordy Jr., the son of the founder of Motown. He was good-looking, smart, excelled in sports and girls. He just had to love him. I remember watching the Watts Riots on a small black and white TV, thinking wherever Watts was, it had to be a million miles from Beverly Hills. When JFK got shot, a bunch of us 2nd graders marched in a line, while chanting out: “We hate Nixon!” We were a society looking outward; the only real question on our hive mind was “Why was Mrs. Wilson so mean?” and “Was Mr. Johnstone the art teacher, gay?”
The most interesting thing about growing up in Beverly Hills was who your friends’ parents were. Sure, there were plenty of doctors, dentists, and lawyers, but there was also always the possibility that the mother or father of your friend was someone really neat. My very first friend in life was a tall kid named Mark Huth. We met in Kindergarten. I think the reason I liked him was that he seemed to get me and my wildish sense of humor, but also he was tall and I was short, and I already knew how mean some other kids could be, especially after my off the cuff wisecracks. Like any Jew, I subcontracted out my protection.
Mark and I were true friends and part of the reason was that, unlike my parents, his father became famous. Gloria Green, my endeared mother, was literally discovered in 1941 by a scout from Warner Brothers, who had heard her sing at a school recital and offered her a film contract. However, her mother (my Grandma Anna) turned down the man. And, so my mother became the ultimate showbiz mom, enrolling me in acting school at age 5. But Mark Huth’s father was famous. He starred in the 1961 film X-15, but was most known for his role as the original Marlboro Man. Ironically, David McLean would die of lung cancer, but not until he established himself as an anti-tobacco campaigner.
The lessons of Beverly Hills are still a bit murky. After all, we were just kids. We didn’t have showbiz dreams; to us, it was merely a matter of going into daddy’s business. And, in many cases, that’s exactly what it was. Just another Detroit; only instead of cars, we made dreams.